Profit Reframed

by Flemming Funch, 30 Nov 95

The pursuit of profit might be viewed as an element of the prevalent economic system that carries a lot of behaviors with it that aren't very beneficial for the whole.

Monetary profits have often been based on manipulating circumstances so that one is paid the most for delivering as little as possible. It often involves creating artificial scarcities: getting people to want something badly that they otherwise wouldn't want, and then make them pay as highly as possibly for it. Profits often mean that one is taking more away from a system than one is putting into it, that one is exploiting circumstances in order to channel a surplus elsewhere.

Now, there might be a benefit in reframing it. Reframing is that one changes the meaning of something, or one finds some new contexts to place it in, that provide changed perspectives.

We could say that profit is when one is making a difference. There is a difference created by what one is doing. One's actions generates more than what was originally there. An activity is profitable when the sum of the energies involved come out positive.

A transaction where one person pays another person for some product or service is not inherently profitable just because the seller offloaded something for more than what he paid for it. If both the seller and buyer don't come out the better for it, there wasn't really any profit.

Profit can only be calculated by adding up all the elements of the whole system. Using up a resource is not profitable for the system unless more than what was already there is generated at the same time.

"Profit" comes from Latin pro-, forward + facere, to make. That is, to make progress, to advance. That is, things are made better.

Any activity that make things better for the parties involved and for the whole system is "profitable".

That has little to do with money. As a matter of fact, money tends to obscure the matter. Money doesn't measure how much things are made better. Money measures how much is owed or how much is due from somebody else.

Counting up money separately from what benefits are arrived at in a system is a little like collecting up a lot of food in a room and considering it "profitable" that nobody is allowed to eat it. As far as whole systems are concerned, food only increases profit if people are fed by it.

True profit is measured in the increased quality of life of all parties concerned.

This can be looked at in terms of very specific individual actions all the way up to very large global systems.

An action is inherently profitable if it makes a positive difference. Not just for the person doing it, but for the recipients of the action, and for the whole system they are part of.

Quite possibly, if we were all the majority of the time doing things that made a positive difference for the whole environment we did them in, then mankind would quite naturally become overall "profitable" within a short period of time.

Many businesses might very well have an overall negative effect on the systems they are part of. Despite their impressive financial balance sheets and the amount of marble and glass in their corporate headquarters and the size of the employees' cars. They might take more away than what is being put back in terms of advances of the whole system.

Making mankind as a whole profitable would probably require that each of us increasingly refuse to take actions that don't benefit the whole. That we honestly assess what the true value of what we do is, and we consciously choose actions that actually advance the quality of life around us.

Currently there are many apparently mutually beneficial relationships - employment - that might not at all be beneficial for the whole that they are part of. They might only appear profitable by denying or ignoring the whole they are an integral part of.

How about if, instead, we set our sights really high: making the whole of mankind immensely profitable. How about we make planet Earth a business with a very, very large positive balance sheet.

The alternative is that our many little efforts of exploiting each other and the environment add up to a very un-profitable planet.

As a Danish politician once said: "It gives but a brief warmth to pee in your pants". Short term profits often turn out to be anything but profits in the bigger picture.

Rather, let's go for the really big, long term profits. The profits of our communities, of our geographical regions, of mankind as a whole, and of the whole planet.

I could very well see it possible to actually calculate whole system profits in some fashion. It could be quite enlightening to see what actually the sum total positive or negative benefits are from the activities of various businesses, community groups, governments, etc. Once these kinds of balance sheets became more widely known it would naturally change the landscape of what humans choose to do.

Most people would, if they see a choice, choose to work for the most profitable endeavours. That is, the activities that most effectively make things better.

- Flemming